Bob Baffert could end up in Kentucky Derby if new lawsuit is successful


Is it possible that Bob Baffert will have at least one horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby? Maybe, it all rests with an as yet unselected Jefferson County, Ky., judge.

On Wednesday, Amr Zedan, one of Baffert’s biggest clients, filed suit in Louisville seeking a temporary injunction that would allow Zedan horses, and others trained by Baffert, to run in the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Baffert is not a party to the lawsuit.

All the previous litigation, which has gone against Baffert and his owners, has been directed at the merits of the case against Medina Spirit, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby until he tested positive for a legal medication that was not legal on race day. Churchill Downs Incorporated suspended Baffert from all Churchill tracks for what was believed to be two years. But, despite no violations in those two years, Churchill Downs added at least one more year to Baffert’s suspension. CDI said the hall of fame trainer didn’t show enough contrition.

Medina Spirit was subsequently disqualified from that Derby.

But this case is based on a different set of circumstances. Zedan’s attorneys, headed by L.A.-based John Quinn, contend that Zedan bought horses in 2022 based on the fact that they could run in the 2024 Kentucky Derby. The suit details how he spent about $10.7 million to purchase six horses including Muth and Maymun in the hopes of winning this year’s Derby at the conclusion of what was thought to be a two-year suspension for Baffert.

Muth won Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which would have earned him 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to go with the 10 points he would have been awarded for winning the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita last year. However, any points earned by a Baffert-trained horse were vacated, or left unawarded. The 110 points Muth would have been won would have easily guaranteed him a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert could have up to four horses running in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. The field will be drawn on Wednesday. Among those is Imagination, owned by a consortium not involving Zedan, who won the San Felipe Stakes and had to vacate 50 Derby qualifying points, which also would have likely been enough to get in the starting field of 20 horses at Churchill Downs. The first- and second-place finishers in this Saturday’s race would likely have enough points to qualify for the Derby, unless they were Baffert horses, at least for now.

Messages were sent to various Churchill Downs spokespeople for a response.

A message was also sent to Baffert.

The suit was not subtle in who it viewed as the villain: Bill Carstanjen, CDI chief executive, who it accused as “pursuing a crazed vendetta at the expense of letting fair, healthy competition run its course. Among the losers are CDI itself and its own shareholders, who should be welcoming, not banning, the best and fastest horses that have qualified for this year’s race.”

Various media outlets have already dubbed this year’s Kentucky Derby, the 150th, as either 149 ½ or having an asterisk because all the best horses will not be running because of the ban of the Baffert horses. The past two years, Baffert moved his best horses to other trainers, most notably Tim Yakteen, one of his former trainers. This year, Baffert and the owners indicated enough was enough and did not move any horses to other trainers.

The argument that it would be a vastly diluted Kentucky Derby lessened when Baffert’s best 3-year-old, Nysos, was removed from training. But Muth’s impressive performance at Oaklawn would make him no less than the second favorite. Fierceness won the Florida Derby on Saturday by 13 ½ lengths and will most likely be the favorite on the first Saturday in May.

Among the arguments that Zedan’s attorney presented in the suit is that the extension of the ban is 1) Not grounded in any contractual or common law; 2) Defies the authority of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority and 3) Threatens the value of the Kentucky Derby.

“I am a longtime admirer of the Kentucky Derby and specifically headquartered by stables … in Kentucky because it is world renowned for horse breeding,” Zedan said in a statement. “Bringing this lawsuit is the last thing I ever wanted or expected.

“But given Bill Carstanjen’s vindictive personal vendetta against our stable’s trainer Bob Baffert — who happens to be one of the most legendary trainers in the history of our sport — the horse racing industry I revere is being compromised.”

Zedan’s biggest enemy is actually time. The courts are not known for their speed. But if a judge were to agree that that a temporary injunction were necessary, then the 150th Kentucky Derby would certainly not only be about a signature milestone year but about the trainer who has dominated this sport for many years.



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